Posted: April 27th, 2010 | Author: Jane Gaboury | Filed under: Education, Publications | Tags: Add new tag, Education, ethics, professionals | 63 Comments »
The following guest blog is from Victoria Beach, an independent architect and former lecturer in architecture at the Harvard School of Design.
Is the profession of architecture corrupt? According to the definition of “institutional corruption” currently in use at the Center for Ethics at Harvard University, yes.
The Center’s new director, renowned attorney Lawrence Lessig, has defined as “corrupt” organizations that have tragic structural flaws that undermine their own purposes for being. He has recently re-focused the Center’s resources on studying these ineffectual institutions and their corrosive effects.
Now, apply this descriptive framework to the architectural profession. Its purpose for being is to create architecture — that is, to make art out of the science of building. The purpose of this art, if there is one, is often debated but most agree it should engage, if not uplift, the individual mind and body as well as human culture as a whole. What kinds of structural features might be holding back the profession from consistently achieving these results?
Here are some possibilities.
- Though the situation varies from school to school, the design academy tends to attract narrowly educated technicians, often without college degrees or any experience in the humanities, and proceeds to advance that narrow focus. This may be a distant residue of an ancient need for draftsmen and laborers, which is rapidly being made obsolete by computer technology. This vestigial practice can prevent architects from understanding and engaging their work in the larger social questions and from collaborating with their broadly educated peers in law, medicine, and the like.
- The internship that the architectural profession requires for licensure takes place in un-accredited, un-monitored, private offices across the country. Because this three-year period is mandatory, offices have an incentive to exploit intern labor, using it for self-serving rather than educational ends. Interns have no leverage to change these conditions and thereby further their training. Often they work for little or no pay, in violation of national labor laws, which virtually ensures their permanent economic dependency on this flawed system.
- The examination for architectural licensure does not test for architectural acumen. It is primarily an engineering exam that does not capture qualitative aspects of humane design. The legal title “architect,” on which laypeople rely to find qualified assistance, therefore does not actually ensure any architectural ability.
- The ethical codes that the profession enforces have been diluted over the years to minimal standards of basic citizenship. They no longer require, and often don’t even describe, the actions that would produce architecture. Neither laypeople nor architects could easily discern from these codes what distinct values architects are meant to uphold and what purposes they are meant to serve.
- The primary professional society for architecture, the American Institute of Architects, mainly promotes, as its name suggests, architects rather than architecture. It is organized under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, which means it is a “business league,” “promoting the common economic interests of … a trade.” The general public can therefore be excused for interpreting this technicality exactly the way the government does: Architects are businesspeople first and professionals or artists second, if at all.
- The building industry has detected, enhanced, and leveraged the public’s confusion over what architects do. As architects surrender their leadership positions, the odds that buildings might serve interests beyond those of their developers worsen. Many architects now sit in the back offices of these developers and are economically dependent upon them – a circumstance that was ethically prohibited a century ago.
- But even without the influences of the building industry, architects are faced with the same ethical conundrums of “agency” that all professionals are. When lawyers are put in the compromising position of knowing information that might clarify the truth of a matter but condemn their own clients, they struggle (one hopes). But at least with the legal system, the zealous advocacy model was designed to provide representatives on more than one side of an issue. Architects, on the other hand, are charged with representing the needs of their paying clients as well as the often contradictory needs of the non-paying users and the non-paying public. There is no other designated agent for these unorganized interest groups.
These seven structural features may indeed be corrupting in Lessig’s sense of undermining the profession’s ability to serve its defining ethical goals. Furthermore, many even stickier ethical conundrums are posed by the very existence of an artistic pursuit structured as a professional and commercial enterprise.
These issues, among many others, have been under intense scrutiny through the ethical research and teaching of professor Carl Sapers and others at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. On April 26, the Carl M. Sapers Ethics in Practice Fund, was established at Harvard to continue and enhance this work. This presents a unique opportunity to raise the discourse of architectural ethics and to address these many challenges.
Posted: December 18th, 2009 | Author: James P. Cramer | Filed under: Best Practices, Education, Professional practice, Publications, Strategy, Technology | Tags: accreditation, Add new tag, IDP, intern, licensure, NAAB, ncarb | 40 Comments »
Today’s guest blogger is Matthew Arnold, who has been examining the duration and success rates of the Intern Development Program.
How long does an architectural internship actually take?
Official estimates range between three and five years, but that didn’t seem to be the case for any of the interns I knew or for that matter, any that they knew. I couldn’t find any hard data published anywhere, so I sent an e-mail to each of the U.S. NCARB-member boards asking what they could tell me.
Three boards — New York, Nebraska, and Oregon — furnished hard data in response to my request. New York provided records for all 15,088 actively licensed architects there. Nebraska and Oregon provided data for the actively licensed architects who had taken and passed the exam in their states, 626 and 800 individuals, respectively.
I made graphs of what they sent me, which you can fine here along with explanatory notes:
The data show that the average time elapsed between graduation and licensure for architects licensed in 2009 exceeds public estimates. In New York it was 11.06 years; in Nebraska 10.89 years; in Oregon 8.96 years.
So as best as I can determine, the answer to how long it takes to become a licensed architect is 9 to 11 years. It is a rare intern who finds this surprising.
The trends in the data are disturbing, in particular the percentages of licensed architects whose internship was 5 years or less, between 5 and 10 years, and over 10 years in New York, as shown in this graph:
In New York in 1980, about three out of four internships took less than 5 years; today this is true for less than 10 percent of aspiring architects in that state.
Before 1980 it was rare for an internship to extend a decade or more in New York, but in 2009 it has become the rule: Half of all internships last at least that long. The trends are similar in Nebraska and Oregon.
There are still some states (New York among them) that do not require an NAAB-accredited degree in order to sit for the exam. These states typically require an (ostensibly) longer period of internship in order to compensate. If the duration of average internship for those with NAAB-accredited degrees is indistinguishable from those without one, the question as to the benefit of the degree in this regard is not an unfair one to ask.
Are three states a sufficient sample to enable us to draw any conclusions?
I’m an architect, not a statistician, but I think it is. These charts depict the professional records of slightly more than 16 percent of all currently licensed architects in the United States — about 1 in 6 of us. New York, Nebraska, and Oregon are distinct in population, geography, and economic characteristics.
I welcome additional hard data on this subject and expect it to support rather than contradict what shows up in the statistics from these three states.
Most states appear to rely on NCARB to maintain these records and are unable to provide them. NCARB tells me it cannot provide any information beyond what is posted on its Web site.
Is such an attenuated internship — amounting to more than 20 percent of a typical career — in the best interests of our profession? Why the discrepancy between what is necessary and what is (apparently) sufficient? Is this system functioning as designed? If so, why isn’t it functioning as advertised? Should we make any changes? What should we change? Are we really doing our best in this regard? Can we in good conscience as a profession continue to create false expectations in students and young professionals about their careers? These are only a few of the questions that the facts compel us to ask and answer.
There are more charts and a nascent discussion on this issue at my Web site. I will be happy to provide the raw data at cost to anyone upon request, and you can perform your own analysis.
Early next year, I’ll be asking the architects who sit on our state boards to obtain an accounting on this subject from NCARB. It’s time to take the future seriously. At the very least, we owe the next generation some honesty.
Posted: November 2nd, 2009 | Author: Jonathan Bahe | Filed under: Best Practices, Economy, Education, Leadership, Professional practice, Publications, Strategy, Sustainability, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: talent | 4 Comments »
It is hard to believe that just a few years ago, one of the biggest conversations within the architecture and design profession was the war for talent — or a shortage of talent. Firms couldn’t find enough workers to fill seats much less enough talented staff. Leaders were in short supply. A very limited supply of H1B visas were accessible to architecture and design firms. Times have certainly changed.
The conditions of today don’t need to be explained in detail. Unemployment in the profession is over 15%. Firms are struggling to keep even talented staff. Backlogs are shrinking or in some cases evaporating. Competition for new projects is fierce. Each situation is unique, but common pain is felt by all. However, it becomes increasingly clear that we all have two choices: We can be the victims of these economic and structural shifts or we can be inventors of strategic success and satisfaction.
A part of this success must be setting a vision and developing strategy for the new world of architecture, whatever that may be. The future condition is unknown, but we can control our attitudes and develop scenarios to allow for our success in whatever this condition holds. One future condition that is certain is that the role of talented design professionals will be even greater. And yet where will this talent come from?
The share of the U.S. workforce that has a post-high school education is not expected to rise in the next 20 years. This is a scary fact given the national high school graduation rate hovers around 50% in the nation’s fifty largest cities, and rises only to 71% in the nation’s suburbs. In some of our more diverse urban areas, where much of the diversity needed for the relevancy of our profession resides, the graduation rates drop to nearly 30%. According to 2007 Department of Education Statistics, only 31% of 8th-graders in the United States are at or above proficient levels in standardized math testing. These are just a few of the frightening trends surrounding the struggles of education.
In a Journal of Business and Psychology article titled “Attracting Applicants in the War for Talent: Differences Among Workplace Preferences in High Achievers,” the authors state, “Students with very high cognitive abilities and strong records of extracurricular activities prefer ‘investigative’ occupations involving analytical or intellectual activity aimed at problem solving and the creation or use of new knowledge.” This is terrific news for architecture and design. However, the fact is that only 10% of people are in the top 10%.
Rather than spending all of our resources chasing the top 10%, I recommend we spend more of them chasing the other 90%. We all want a slice of that top 10%. But by developing a vision and strategies that embrace new paradigms and dynamics within our profession we can begin to develop effective ways of recruiting from the 90% and developing them into the top 10%. If we don’t, competitors will. If we wait for the future to happen, it won’t be desirable. This is the opportunity to affect the future health of our organizations that we have been looking for.
Posted: September 8th, 2009 | Author: Jonathan Bahe | Filed under: Best Practices, Economy, Leadership, Professional practice, Publications, Uncategorized | Tags: Leadership, service | 2 Comments »
I recently have been rereading “Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice” — more commonly known as “The Boyer Report” — written by Ernest Boyer and Lee Mitgang. This project, led by the Carnegie Foundation in partnership with the AIA, AIAS, NCARB, ACSA, and NAAB, was initiated in 1987 and published in 1996. Many of the profound observations made by the report are as applicable today as they were 15 years ago. I believe that as a profession we still have a long way to go in addressing, much less meeting, the charges set forth by the authors. It is in many ways disheartening that we have failed to deal with these vital issues as a profession and yet slightly encouraging that the same issues remain at the forefront of discussions in many leading institutions and professional practices across the country.
I have been particularly struck by the last of the seven goals set forth by the authors, that of service to the nation. This motivational section takes a profound look at the role architecture and design can have in the creation of better neighborhoods, communities, and nations. As the authors so eloquently state,
“Perhaps never in history have the talents, skills, the broad vision and the ideals of the architecture profession been more urgently needed. The profession could be powerfully beneficial at a time when the lives of families and entire communities have grown increasingly fragmented, when cities are in an era of decline and decay rather than limitless growth, and when the value of beauty in daily life is often belittled. Surely, architects and architecture educators, as well as the organizations that represent them, ought to be among the most vocal and knowledgeable leaders in preserving and beautifying a world whose resources are in jeopardy.”
In this time of continued uncertainty for our profession and for our planet and its people I believe it is time for us to step forward into the role that Boyer and Mitgang challenge us to achieve — that of vocal and knowledgeable leaders. Now more than ever, the vision and talents of our profession are needed in our communities. Design thinking can and should be at the forefront of decisions we are making about our future. Rather than sitting on the sidelines hoping that the past returns or bemoaning the current state of affairs, we — collectively and individually — must lead. We can contribute greatly to the discussions. I firmly believe this is the opportunity our profession has been looking and waiting for. It’s time for leadership!
Posted: August 5th, 2009 | Author: Jane Gaboury | Filed under: Publications | Tags: aia convention, richard saul wurman, RSW | No Comments »
Months ago I blogged about a work session we had here with Richard Saul Wurman as he launched into the creation of his newest book. 33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding is now almost complete.
How do I even begin to describe it? It’s a fable. It’s a fable wrapped around a 33-year-old illustrated keynote address Wurman delivered at the 1976 AIA convention. It’s a 33-part television script. It’s a fantastical allegory. It’s thought-provoking and charming.
Here’s a look at one of the spreads.
Sample spread from Richard Saul Wurman's "33"
Hoping to go to the printer with this any day now. Look for it in September. Here’s a bit more about it from our press release.